Jews in the Polish Army
In the final days before the outbreak of the war, Poland conscripted one million men, among them over 100,000 Jews. The majority of Jews served in the infantry.
On 29 September, Poland surrended to Germany and many soldiers were captured. The Jewish POWs were treated the most brutally, and on release, they were imprisoned in ghettos.
After the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Polish soldiers, among them Jews, volunteered to serve in the Red Army and fight in their ranks. A Polish army was set up in the Soviet Union, headed by General Vladislav Anders. Despite the fact that the officers in Anders’ army were generally hostile towards them, some 4,000 Jews – 5% of the total number of soldiers – served in its ranks.
At the end of 1942, Anders’ Army reached Eretz Israel via Tehran. Some 3,000 Jewish soldiers stayed in the country, joining the Jewish Underground. Those who remained in Anders’ Army took part in the invasion of Italy and the battles in the area of Monte Casino. 22 Jewish soldiers were killed at Monte Casino, 62 were injured, and many were awarded medals of honor at the end of the war.
In May 1943, after Anders’ Army had left the Soviet Union, a different Polish army was established there. This army fought in Eastern Europe until the end of the war. It joined in the battles to liberate Warsaw, and even reached Berlin. Of the 54,600 soldiers in this army, 2,400 were Jews. Some estimate that the actual number of Jewish soldier was much greater, but they hid their identity for fear of antisemitism. Eight of the 203 Jewish officers in the communist Polish army reached the rank of general.